Strategic Choices

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In the past, keeping a business IT system up to date was simpler.  Whoever looked after your IT installed the latest patch or update on the Server and pushed those updates out to networked machines.  Or if you were a really small operation, one person went from machine to machine implementing the latest upgrades.

TODAY, SO CALLED ‘virtual machines’ and Cloud technologies have become mainstream and are impacting the workplace more and more.  Studies show that by the end of 2015, 70 per cent of offices will be using Server virtualisation, resulting in greater hardware utilisation and lower costs.

And what business doesn’t have at least some of its data in the Cloud? 

While these new technologies offer advantages in terms of efficiency and reliability, they also present security challenges that must be overcome.  Here’s what you can do to keep your systems up to date and well protected.

Working with virtual machines

Virtual systems have the advantage of greater stability and more up time.  The process of virtualisation for businesses involves consolidating multiple Servers into a more powerful virtual machine distributed across a network.  Virtual machines offer flexibility and other advantages that can’t be matched by a physical computer.  They make excellent testing grounds for performing trial software runs and predicting how variables will interact without putting your data at risk.

But virtual machines have security issues just like real ones.  Because components of virtual machines can be spread out, hackers may find it easier to target a vulnerable point.  In the past, anti-virus and anti-malware programs were difficult to run on virtual machines because of these shared resources.

IT security firm Symantec’s Threats to virtual environments report published recently states that 82 per cent of the malware it tracks is now capable of running on virtual machines.  This means that implementing sophisticated, proactive malware protection that is kept up to date is vitally important if all the benefits of virtualisation are to be reaped.

Protecting Cloud data

Data is the most important component of many modern Companies and corporate Users are understandably nervous about moving to Cloud computing and Cloud storage.  But the increasingly global nature of business and the push for efficiency and convenience are driving ever-higher rates of Cloud adoption.

As stories of hackers stealing thousands of identities and credit cards become almost commonplace, what precautions need to be taken to prevent data loss and security breaches?  At the very least, incoming or outgoing data sent to the Cloud should use secure protocols and sensitive data such as credit card payments should always be encrypted.

Maintaining Cloud security requires many of the same tools and procedures as maintaining an
in-house system.  Application firewalls are crucial, as are systems designed to spot vulnerabilities and detect intrusion attempts.  The biggest advantage for small Companies is that you don’t have to worry about meeting these demands.  Reputable Cloud service providers will provide 24/7 monitoring and security updates at their end.

Protecting against Cloud data loss is a separate issue entirely.  Many Companies decide to keep
in-house backups of their most crucial data, while others choose cross-Cloud backups so that if one Cloud fails another is still operating.

Remember that if you keep data files locally, you’ll need to implement good security measures and keep them up to date, or all the protection of the Cloud is pointless.

However you choose to build your systems, whether physical, virtual, or a hybrid mix, the most important precaution to keeping your IT system strong is to ensure all necessary upgrades are carried out and to have a good disaster recovery plan.  This means testing backup and restoration procedures regularly.  Try deleting a few non-essential files from your live Server environment and test how easy it is to get them back.  Mimic what would happen if a virtual machine were wiped out by a security hack.  Testing to make sure that systems are up to date and resilient can put a business owner’s mind at ease.

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